Clothes-Freedom at the Burning Man Festival

The Burning Man Festival is a contemporary ritual, a "postmodern carnival of the absurd". And nudity is fully acceptable attire. These links offer photographic proof - and quite a few unusual images. Burning Man attracts primarily a young crowd - belying the canard that only old, fat folks like to be naked.

The urge towards freedom from a rigid dependence on clothing is not limited to certain cultural or age groups, but it may well express itself in different ways. It's possible that the Festival, and other events like it which may develop, represent for the current generation of people 18 to 30 years of age what "free beaches" did for people of that age in the 1960s and 70s.

The large majority of people at the Festival don't go nude, at least most of the time. But anyone can be nude if they wish to be. It's an interesting lesson in how nudity fits smoothly into "everyday life" (if it can be called that in this context) when each person is free to choose how to dress without the usual social taboos. Although nude people at the Festival are a minority, in contrast to conventional society, they are an accepted minority. Perhaps this is a pattern for a broader part of our society in the future. If you're curious to see whether and how this can actually work - try visiting the next Festival.

Nudity is often a part of the artistic statements that participants create. It may be in the form of body painting, performance art, living tableaux, or whatever an active imagination can conceive. This kind of art is a heightened form of self-expression, but nudity can be a part of any self-expression.

In his essay The New American Holiday, Darryl Van Riley says

Today, as Americans, we live in a world in which the power of the individual seems dwarfed. Who or what is any one of us amid the impersonal forces which drive corporate business or government bureaucracy? We have become a passive people. Our freedom to choose has become the freedom to choose between products. Our inner lives, increasingly, do not belong to the world around us. We have been deprived of community. We live, as consumers, in isolation from one another, and our political liberties begin to seem trivial.
It seems to me that these remarks apply very well to people who have discovered the value of nudity and wish to make it a more important part of their lifestyle. Though we know this way of living is in tune with our best instincts, it is poorly understood by the world at large. Our desire for community with others of like mind is frustrated by the simple practicalities of finding and interacting with each other in the midst of an indifferent and sometimes hostile society that is madly rushing to nowhere, under the self-serving illusions promoted by huge, impersonal mass instutitions of media, business, government, and religion. Under such circumstances, our inner lives not only don't belong to the world around us - they don't even belong to ourselves.

People need places they can turn away from this, to find each other, and to find themselves. Sometimes in solitude, and sometimes in community.

The noted science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, in an article about the 1996 festival published in Wired lamented how our society provides convenient venues for many less creditable activities, while art is exiled to a remote desert:

It's all exactly backward. If you want to have a naked pagan art fair, you ought to have it in the padded comfort of a sealed, air-conditioned casino. It would be perfect for this kind of activity. If you want to divorce somebody or feed the gambling bug or lick your chops over paid nudity, then you ought to have to creep off to do that in some remote boondocks where the rest of us don't have to witness your gross behavior. I wonder how our culture got into this oxymoronic situation. It can't be good for us.

Perhaps this exile is ending. The "Festival" began in 1986 as a one man's essentially private gesture. Attendance really began to take off in 1994, and at the same time Web pages started appearing (just as the Web itself was emerging). 1995 and 1996 were "classic" years. The 1997 event attracted about 20,000 people, and there are signs that many spin-off events at a variety of other locations are starting to occur.

General pages

The Official Burning Man Site
This is the definitive source of information on the Festival. Check here for announcements, background, and history. Many links to related sites. The list of theme camps and villages planned for 1998 is especially interesting.
Building Burning Man
The official journal of the Burning Man Project. A newsletter with articles and the latest information.
Burning Man Community Links
Web links at the official site, with special categories such as theme camps, photography, media, essays
The Burning Man Archives
A miscellany, as the name implies, and links to other sites. A repository/scrapbook of past events. Features include A Brief History of Burning Man, archives from 1994, 1995, and 1996. There's a very interesting collection of media reports on the Festival. And even a Burning Man Forum.
The Civilized Explorer Burning Man Pages
This is a very good site with a lot of helpful information and advice on how to survive and enjoy the Burning Man experience. There are many original photographs, informative commentary, and links to other sites. The authors of this site are a little older than most participants, and they include a mature person's guide. An observation: "Nudity is quite common; many people are also top-free. Some have painted themselves radiantly." (Elsewhere on the Civilized Explorer site there is information on naturist travel in the French West Indies.)
Burning Man Web Ring
A chain of sites that deal with the Burning Man. Check here for the complete list of sites.
Piss Clear
Bills itself as "Black Rock City's alternative press publication... the playa's only other press outlet, competing directly with the more establishment-oriented Black Rock Gazette."
The Dobbstown Nano-Heliograph
This "newspaper" gives one perspective on the 1995 event. Includes a good collection of B&W photos. "Nudity was a casual if not mandatory feature of Burning Man. As comely youths and maidens stoned about, clad only in the beauty of the day, in nearby Gerlach the local Administrator for three counties held an emergency meeting, requesting that local officials call out the National Guard "to keep those naked people from invading Gerlach." This suggestion, needless to say, was not acted upon."
Burning the Man
Produced by a first timer at the 1996 event, here are pictures and comments from participants that evoke the experience.
Burning Man, The Body
An evocative narrative from the alkali flats, by Morrisa Sherman. She attended with folks from the talk.bizarre newsgroup - appropriate companions. "I admired a lissome young woman with high Somali cheekbones and a headful of long braids wearing nothing but a string of huge pink beads around her midriff, as well as a small caravan of sporty gents on bicycles the view of whose muscle definition was also uninterrupted by clothing."
Burning Man Links
Large collection of links on the 1997 event, with descriptions, collected by photographer Philip Greenspun. There is a smaller collection of related links from before the event here.
The Illumination Project
A group of artists that "creates monumental and fleeting works of art", both inside and outside of the Festival. The pages for their Illumination Camp are here.
Burning Man Meets Capitalism
An article in U. S. News and World Report prior to the 1997 festival proves that the mainstream has taken note.
Burning Man
This Web site from 1994 was one of the first. Still gives a good idea of what the Festival is about.
Burning Man Links at Yahoo
Uninspired, but...
The Burning Question at Black Rock
Story about the 1996 Festival from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Net Insider: Burning Man
Online digital media coverage of the 1997 Festival.
Greetings from Burning Man!
A long article in Wired by science fiction author Bruce Sterling. He liked it:

"A nude woman covered with mud is an interesting sight, but mostly she looks like she's undergoing a spa treatment. But take some nude muscular young guy and armor him face-to-foot in black and gray sulfurous muck and he looks genuinely impressive, like a New Guinea head-hunting Mud Warrior. Hey, Nancy and I are with this. It works for us. We strip the dusty clothes from our middle-aged, married-couple carcasses and we cover ourselves with mud."

Photo galleries and albums

Kristen Ankiewicz's Burningman Photos
Kristen is a talented artist/photographer (look around her site) and has produced a fine overview of the event.
Burning Man 1995
Barbara Traub has some of the best images from the event. They capture its surrealism. "There were fires and dancers, hail and mud, all the machines, the naked and the painted in the desert and neon light." There are also images from 1994, B&W Photos from 1995, and color photos from 1997.
Burning Man 3-D Image Gallery
By Harold Baize. Spectacular. Must see. Real 3-D images from the festivals all the way back to 1996.
Burning Man 1996
Black & white pictures of people, places, and things from the 1996 festival by Kristin Johansen.
Bill Boyd
Black and white images, with a journalistic feel, from 1995, 1996, and 1997.
Wm Leler
Some very good photos of a few of the creative participants in the 1995 event.
Rain, Cars, Fashion and Mud at Burning Man 1995
More good pictures from the 1995 event, by Richard Petersen.
Jazz and Lucky Visit the Burning Guy
Very good tongue-in-cheek photo album of the 1996 Festival by a couple from Grundy Center, Iowa. "We stumbled upon what we thought was a nice little craft fair in the desert until we noticed that a lot of these friendly young people were in their birthday suits! Lucky decided we should poke around a little bit, and boy, oh boy are we glad we did!"
Burning Sensations: A Visual Journey into Burning Man
Collection of photos and thoughts from 1996 onward, by David Peterman. Nice variety and sense of humor.
CyberBuss Burning Man Photos 1966
Cyber version of the Merry Pranksters - a worthy successor. Great pictures.
Steven Noreyko
Good images from the 1996 and 1997 Festivals.
Curt McClain - Burning Man at Black Rock, 1996
Text and images. Curt makes one remark that is as applicable to naturism in general as to the Festival: "To truly understand some things, you are just going to have to experience them yourself. This is certainly one of those things."
Paul Carlin's Burning Man Pictures
"This was NOT a hippie love fest orgy, but rather an environment of unlimited self-expression where you have the freedom to do what you like without the restrictions imposed by society's rules. Have you ever had the urge to remove your clothes and dance in front of a burning volcano with an audience of thousands?" Pictures from 1997 and 1998.
Burning Man Festival 1997
By Bruno Randolf. "What you cannot see on the pictures is the unbelievable sense of community, tolerance and diversity. There were all sorts of guys, doing all sorts of stuff, and nobody was judging one another, everybody just enjoyed the creative energy of the event. It was very tribal, anarchistic (in it's best form), surreal, aesthetic and free."
Take A Walk Across the Playa
A look at "the Burning Man Experience", by Mike Kellner
That Guy's Burning Man
Photos and QuickTime movie clips from 1994 onward, by Mike Wooldridge.
Bree & Nat Torkington's Burning Man Adventures
Good snapshots from the 1996 event by brother/sister members of the talk.bizarre group.
Photos from Burning Man
By Brian Cash, yet another of the talk.bizarre group.

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